International flight arrivals to resume

Victoria will reopen to start receiving international flights with the first plane set to touch down on the tarmac within weeks. Just six weeks after ban on hotel quarantine, Victoria will again open its doors to international flight arrivals, on April 8 following an overhaul of its hotel quarantine program.

Acting Premier James Merlino said international flights would return from April 8 capped at 800 people per week before scaling up to 1120 people per week from April 15, subject to capacity and the completion of newly developed ventilation system works needed in hotel quarantine.

The state government cannot be blamed for being cautious. This announcement follows a comprehensive review into the management of new highly infectious and rapidly changing variants of coronavirus.

Enabling the government to resume international arrivals, Mr Merlino said the state’s hotel quarantine system had been strengthened.

When on February 14 COVID-19 once again seeped out of the hotel quarantine system, sparking the Holiday Inn cluster and prompting a snap five-day lockdown, the state government had banned international arrivals.

A medical device known as a nebuliser, used by an infectious man inside quarantine, had triggered the outbreak. The man at the time claimed he was given permission to use the device in hotel quarantine. The claim was disputed by the Victorian Government.

Additional screening for medical devices will form part of the revamped program, following the incident.

 “We’ve taken the action and time necessary to ensure we have the most rigorous quarantine system possible in place to protect against these highly infectious, rapidly changing variants of concern,” Mr Merlino said.

 “The challenges of this virus will be with us for some time to come, that’s why we’ve made the necessary changes to ensure we’re keeping Victorians safe.”

Victoria is now COVID free and has had 27 days of zero cases of infection.

In the New Hotel Quarantine scenario
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements have been standardised across all hotels to house guests coming in. The end-of-shift procedures have also been strengthened and there is a new online system for easier contact mapping of staff and their households.

Hotel guests will now be tested four times during their quarantine period. There will also be follow-up tests recommended after they complete and go out of quarantine regime.

According to Professor Allan Cheng, Victoria’s deputy chief health officer, almost 90 per cent of hotel quarantine staff had been vaccinated, which put Victoria – with its frontline workers now a lot better protected, in a position to safely resume flights.

“It’s really important to note that this is not the only protection on our vaccinated households – it’s all the ventilation and operational work that’s being done as well,” Prof Cheng said.

The Victorian government has also released its response to the final report from the hotel quarantine board of inquiry, with Mr Merlino committing to implement each of the 81 recommendations, “in full or part”.

There may be some delay for international flight arrivals from India returning back to normal, with India facing second spike in COVID cases and lack of adequate vaccination certification regime. The two government are understood to be looking at the steps involved, post Morrison-Modi impromptu telephone chat last month.

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